What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that affects how the body uses sugar. The body's cells use sugar for energy. The cells cannot get sugar unless the blood has the right amount of insulin.

People with diabetes either do not make insulin or the insulin they have does not work the way it should. The exact cause is unknown. 

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It acts like a key that opens the door to the body's cells. The sugar can then move out of the blood and into the cells to be used for energy. Insulin keeps the sugars in your blood under control.

What are the two main types of diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes:

  • The pancreas stops making insulin.
  • It is normally found in people under 30 years old.
  • Insulin shots are needed.

Type 2 diabetes:

  • The pancreas still makes some insulin, but it does not work well in the body. We call this insulin resistance.
  • It normally happens in adults over the age of 30, but it can occur in kids.
  • It can sometimes be treated by eating healthy and being more active.
  • Pills and/or shots might also be needed.

What causes diabetes?

The exact cause of diabetes is not known.

Type 1 diabetes tends to run in families. It is caused by unknown factors that trigger the disease.

Type 2 diabetes also runs in families. Your chance of getting it is higher if you are overweight and not active.

How do I know if I have diabetes?

The signs are:

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Peeing a lot
  • Feeling hungry
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling tired
  • Changes in eyesight
  • Slow healing cuts or infections
  • Itching of the skin

There are many tests your doctor can use:

Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) 
Checks your blood sugar after at least eight hours without eating or drinking. (An FPG of 126 mg/dl or higher suggests diabetes.)
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) 
Checks your blood sugar before and two hours after you drink a sugary liquid. (An OGTT of 200 mg/dl or higher suggest diabetes.)
Random Plasma Glucose
Test measures your blood sugar at any time of the day if you have severe signs of diabetes. (A blood sugar reading of 200 mg/dl or higher suggests diabetes.)
Hemoglobin A1c 
Measures your average blood sugar for the past two to three months. (An A1c of 6 1/2 percent or higher suggests diabetes.)

Is there a cure for diabetes?

Diabetes cannot be cured but it can be controlled.

Work with your diabetes care team to learn how to live with diabetes.

Last reviewed: 
June 2017

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